Garden Walls and Gabions

By Dan Gregory

The sweeping curve defines and connects outdoor rooms. Photo courtesy Bernard Trainor + Associates

The ordinary garden wall has latent powers. In the hands of a landscape magician like Bernard Trainor it can provide enclosure, seating, and visual drama all at once. See how his low wall bending around a bowl-shaped water feature draws us into the circle close to the reflecting pool — it's a liquid campfire! — deftly creating a simple but memorable outdoor room. You can also see how the wall’s whiplash curve reels the rest of the garden into view.

I had the pleasure of working with Bernard Trainor on a project for Sunset magazine — and I admire his pragmatic/poetic approach. He first studies the site to document water movement, soil types, vegetation, view shed, and seasonal dynamics. He says: “These site patterns are a repository of meaning — they do not lie…” Then he combines this new knowledge with the client’s program and starts to design; good advice for any garden designer.

Garden walls can be made of almost anything. In Phoenix I have seen walls made from gabions, which are wire mesh cages filled with rocks –  typically used in civil engineering projects to stabilize slopes and shorelines. In a garden they’re like works of environmental art. My friend and former colleague at Sunset, Senior Garden Writer Sharon Cohoon, is a fan of gabions and discovered a Utah company called Ore Containers that makes unusual tall water features out of gabions.

Originally Published in Eye On Design

Wed Aug 21 00:00:00 PDT 2013